Everytime I travel to China, I get this insult from Chinese people:
Jerry, you American. You know America has no history!
I've explained it enough to my Chinese friends that I think I have enough a grasp to help any American in China counter this assertion by many Chinese.
Let's first explore the givens. Yes, Chinese history has (in absolute terms) been going on for more than 5,000 years. American (as in Yank, 美国白人, or Gringo) history is only about 400 something years old. But there's a huge fallacy in analyzing history this way: looking at absolute numbers doesn't show anything because absolute numbers don't show the density of events in a given period.
America in those 400 years went from a terrorist bunch of colonists who didn't want to pay taxes to the most powerful nation in the world that has military bases on every continent and is the envy of all. Chinese history has been circular almost all of those 5,000 years until very recently when the dynastic cycle broke.
So if you break down Chinese history from way Before Common Era until 1911, it always followed this process:
- Chaos and anarchy and disunity and warlordism
- Someone wins and unites China proper through conquest and political maneuvering
- Period of stability and growth in technology, science, and arts
- Decline as the later-generation rulers become more and more ineffective
- Natural disaster, insurrection, Coup D'ETat, rebellion or foreign Invasion
- Go back to number one and don't collect $200 (sorry, bad Monopoly joke)
This entire cycle repeated itself, and Chinese historians break up Chinese history into Dynasties, starting at Xia 夏 and ending in Qing 清. Every dynasty had a similar start and a similar end. Sure, a lot happened in each dynasty, but a lot would get lost during each transition as the dynastic cycle reset.
The progress of Chinese historical evolution during the dynastic cycle is toward a better society for everyone, but at a much slower pace. The dynastic cycle inevitably moves society's progress backwards for every two step forwards, especially when the chaos period emerges before the next dynasty can take shape. Let's compare the graph above to how American history has shaped up.
Because there was no dynastical cycle to move things backwards whenever a new mandate of heaven had to get implemented, American history progressed at a much quicker pace than Chinese history.
And that's the key fundamental misunderstanding in the Chinese analysis of American history: Chinese people are only looking at absolute terms. In relative terms, so much more happened in those 400 Yank years when it comes to human development, economic and political thought, the arts, sciences, technology, etc. There's a reason why America rules the world and not China. Look how much happened in China after it finally did away with the last remnants of the dynastic cycle by ending the cycle of struggle and redistribution of Communism. China's now on the map and may one day overtake America in everything.
I hope this gives you American Lao Wai ammunition next time some Chinese person tells you American history is only "The Civil War" and nothing else. Those graphs are in no way mathematically correct or based on some advanced statistical analysis. I just like to think visually when explaining. Let me know what you think and what other topics you want me to cover! I might write a followup to this. Til next time!